One unlikely benefit of the Covid-19 Pandemic is that we are finally starting to realise that health is a collective concern not a private one. A healthy community creates healthy individuals. And as many people are going to be spending more time at home in the coming weeks and months, it’s vital that our homes are healthy. How can we make our homes healthier?
We love comfort. We will even pay extra for it when buying goods. We splash out on comfort. We buy more comfortable shoes, a softer bed, a car with more leg-room, an all inclusive holiday or a bigger house. We innately understand the connection between comfort and our health. Comfort makes us think we feel better which ironically actually makes us feel better. In other words we understand the connection between improved-perceived health and improved-actual health. When we buy these things we are not just buying comfort, we are buying health. On a primal level we know that our environment impacts our health and so we try to improve it by buying comfort.
Even when it comes to interpersonal relationships we crave comfort. Socially, we seek out those that can console us and give us affection. Those we can trust and confide in. Contrastingly, we cut out negative people. We space ourselves from toxic friends and family. We quit jobs that make us feel unhappy or stressed. We avoid avoid events that are boring or anxiety inducing. Yet again we understand the impact of our environment on ourselves, and on our health and wellbeing.
Where do we spend our time?
So why do we not give the same attention to our homes? According to a study by the Environmental Protection Agency, the average person spends 93% of their time indoors. 6% of that is spent inside transport moving from building to building. We almost spend our entire life in buildings. And so, buildings are our natural environment. In psychology there is a major debate about nurture vs nature e.g. who we are at a biological level vs how we are shaped by our environment. And as we spend 93% of our time indoors I would suggest that our buildings are a major player in who we are, and ultimately our health.
Our buildings and homes influence our energy, our wellbeing, our mood and our emotions. The space in which we inhabit influences how we think, which influences our entire being. This encapsulates the various facets of our physical, emotional, mental, and sexual health. What we think, we become. Fundamentally, this is why we so often try to buy comfort, because it momentarily improves all those things.
Creating healthy homes
So what makes a building healthy? Unsurprisingly, a lot of things. A building needs to be fit for purpose. It needs to be able to address the day to day needs of all its users. Conversely, it needs to be dynamic as those needs may change with time and age. It needs to be easy to navigate, secure and accessible. It needs to relate to the outside environment. Multiple studies show how a connection to nature and plants can improve the health of occupants. Additionally good light and ventilation in our homes can significantly improve our health. Did you know that good ventilation helps stop the spread of pathogens such as Covid-19? As it makes us less likely to pass on these diseases to whoever we share our homes and spaces with.
A healthy building needs to be socially dynamic too. It needs places we can socialise with others; places we can play with the kids. But it also needs spaces we can withdraw to, this is especially important if we need to self-isolate. Even architects underestimate the importance of health in buildings. We need a crash course in place-making and the psychological impacts of the spaces we create. At a basic level we all understand the importance of creating good healthy spaces, but profit far too often takes precedence over our health and wellbeing.
Why do we put price tags on our health? What if I told you I had a product that could make you live longer. That enhances your memory and makes you more creative. That makes you look more attractive. That keeps you slim and lowers food cravings. That protects you from cancer and dementia. That wards off colds and the flu (vitally important considering the current pandemic.) But a product that lowers your risk of heart disease and stroke and diabetes. It can even make you feel happier, less depressed and less anxious. Would you be interested? What if I told you that that product was the proven benefits of a full nights sleep. What if i told you that the best way to improve your sleep is by regulating your circadian rhythm and adenosine cycle (both are biological mechanisms that regulate sleep) is through adequate natural daylight. We need to get enough natural daylight during the day for our body to know when to sleep. Knowing this, would you be more likely to listen to an architect when they advocate for putting bigger and better windows in your home?
Evidence shows that the places we live, work, and play impacts our health. Architects need to realise that our work has an impact on health, whether intended or not. And as many of our homes in Ireland are already built we need to realise the importance of redesigning and retrofitting homes for optimised health. We need to improve the flow of buildings, and increase light quality and views to nature, while improving ventilation and protecting against moisture and radon. We need to start designing for health. We need to design for life and make homes comfortable and accessible for an ageing population and people with disabilities.
If you would like to discuss improving your home and health, please get in contact with us. Designing quality spaces that optimise health is a priority for us and we’d be happy to help.